How can I tell if I'm doing too much physical activity

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teen boys playing basketball

​The road to recovery first requires understanding your pain, in particular understanding the difference between the pain that means potential harm and the pain that does not. This is one of the most challenging parts of pain management because it differs from one person to the next.

Persistent pain is often the result of changes in the sensitivity of the nerves, spinal cord and brain. These changes can magnify the sensation of pain, even when there is no harm or damage occurring in the body. Regular pain then becomes a false danger message.

Our pain processing mechanisms change as pain persists, and we cannot always rely on our pain messages to tell us if our tissues are safe or not. Your healthcare team can help you learn which pain messages to pay attention to during and after activities.

Think about your function the next day

As you assess the impact of exercise on your pain levels, one of the important questions to consider is, “Was I able to function the next day?” It is normal to feel some discomfort during and after activity; this discomfort may appear as muscle tightness, muscle ache or fatigue.

Stretching, breathing exercises, positive self-talk (“I can do this!”) and appropriate rest and nutrition after exercise can all help you to be active and still function the next day. Have a look at the healthy eating guidelines to learn more about nutrition.

​If you are able to get back to your typical baseline of functioning within 24 hours, then you likely have your activity level about right. If not, try doing the activity for half the time or at half of the original intensity the next time and see how well you recover afterwards.

Everyone overdoes it once in a while and you might not always get it right. Remember that no one is looking for perfection. If you have a special occasion or big game that is important to you and you know you will likely feel it the next day, then plan some extra stretching or resting before and after. This will minimize any loss in function over the following few days.

Remember to start low​

Remember to find the average amount of activity that you can tolerate comfortably (your tolerance) and cut that in half when you begin a new exercise program. This way, you will be consistently active, doing less than your maximum but maintaining regular activity from day to day. Over time you can build up your activity level. If you do this, you will be less likely to have pain flares after you exercise.

Use the iCanCope app to track your activity and your progress towards your physical activity goals!

Last updated: May 2nd 2016